The liberation of Mosul came after nine hard months of fighting and three brutish years of occupation. All eyes have fixated on this noteworthy event; however, just south in Baghdad, eight churches have been closed due to the significant loss of the Christian populace.
The eight Baghdad churches were closed in May of 2017, after nearly seven years of low to no attendance. After the regional Catholic Church authority visited the churches, the Vatican decided that it was best to close the doors for good. While this makes logistical sense, it represents a symbolic defeat for the Church in the capital of Iraq.
Christianity was once an integral part of the multifaceted religious fabric of Iraq. At the beginning of the 21st century, Christians made up 10% of the total population. The recent history of Iraq, however, reflects a steady stream of repression, conflict, displacement, and persecution.
“Christian immigration passed through three main stages,” a former resident of Baghdad told International Christian Concern (ICC). “The first was from 2005-2007, [the] second was in 2010 when some extremists attacked [a] church during Sunday mass and the third stage was in 2014 when ISIS attacked [the] Nineveh Plain.”
Christians in Baghdad were distributed within different neighborhoods under Saddam Hussein, some more homogeneous than others. Sectarian conflict and threats began in 2005. At first, the conflicts existed primarily between Sunni and Shia groups, but later, Sunni extremists started threatening Christian populations as well.
It was commonplace for Christians to receive envelopes containing bullets and a threat from nearby extremists. Messages promising bloodshed and death drove thousands of Christians from their homes in these neighborhoods.
“In early 2006, we forcibly left our house because we got an envelope tell[ing] us, ‘You have to leave within 48 hours, all you have to take is your clothes, if you t[ake] anything else we will kill you,’” Seza, another former Baghdad resident, told ICC. “Still I have the envelope and the three bullets we received from the gang.”
Seza further explained how she and her husband learned that their neighbor of three years had been involved in their displacement.
Baghdad during these years fell into a state of religious and tribal warfare. Shia versus Sunni versus Christian. Shia and Sunni gangs used the country’s crisis to try and gain more influence and territory. Christians, being mostly unarmed, were easy targets for such gangs. With no help from a crumbling government, they had no choice but to flee their homes. To put this in perspective, between the years of 2003 and 2007, 40% of refugees fleeing Iraq were of the Christian faith.
“I used to see dead bodies for unknown people every day when I come back from work; our sons used to sleep at their friends’ or relatives’ houses sometimes because, in 2005, if time passed 6:00 p.m. most probably you will be killed if you come to our house or, if you are lucky, you will find the road blocked, anyway,” Sargon, an Iraqi Christian told ICC.
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SOURCE: Christian Headlines
International Christian Concern, Sandra Elliot